After 106 games, the Cleveland Indians have failed to lose four games in a row. They dodged another bullet on Thursday afternoon with a balanced attack, strong pitching, and plenty of offensive support to end a three-game bender as the Tribe knocked off the Minnesota Twins by a 9-2 score.
Mike Clevinger, tasked with the unenviable job of doing what Danny Salazar, Carlos Carrasco, and Trevor Bauer could not do before him, gave the Indians nearly five innings of stability on the mound. He handed the ball off to the bullpen and manager Terry Francona’s relief arms got the job done with four and two-thirds inning of no-hit baseball.
Clevinger got the early support that has been lacking from the Indians offense for much of the homestand, as Cleveland jumped out to a lead in the bottom of the first against new Minnesota starter and former All-Star Hector Santiago.
If someone had told you before this baseball season began that the Cleveland Indians bullpen would have some issues and be the weakest part of the ball club, you might have though the team was going to in bad shape by the campaign’s midway point.
By the same token, if someone had told you in March that the Tribe’s offense would be nearly as responsible for a strong first half as the team’s vaunted rotation, you might have though you were being lied to. Especially if it was added that Michael Brantley would miss most of the season’s first 100 games and Yan Gomes would have one of the lowest batting averages in the game. Those two have been key pieces to Cleveland’s batting order over the last few years.
However, here we are as the post All-Star break portion of the schedule has just gotten under way. The bullpen has been average at best and suspect at various times in the season. Closer Cody Allen has not been lights out, but has at least gotten the job done a lot more times than not. After that, most of the rest of the relievers have either performed below expectations, not pitched enough to gauge, or are young and/or inexperienced in their role.
Who has been the most clutch Tribe reliever this year? At first, this seems like a silly question.
The answer is simple, you might think. It’s obviously closer Cody Allen. He’s been 14-for-16 in save situations this year and has a 3.23 ERA. Plus, he’s only pitched in the eighth inning or later, generally considered the most important innings in a game. According to the clutch metric on FanGraphs, Allen is the wrong answer.
The right answer, and the leader in clutch score across all of baseball, is actually Dan Otero. That’s right, the 31-year-old middle reliever acquired for cash considerations in the offseason has been the Tribe’s most clutch reliever so far. His clutch score, which according to FanGraphs’ David Appelman measures “how much better or worse a player does in high leverage situations than he would have done in a context neutral environment,” is 1.40. The second highest in the AL among relievers is 1.25.
The Indians bullpen wasted a good early comeback by the offense as a pair of late long balls and two blown Cleveland rallies pushed the Baltimore Orioles to a 6-4 victory in the rubber match from Progressive Field on Sunday afternoon.
After allowing the tying run to score in the bottom of the sixth, the Orioles responded with a solo home run from Hyun Soo Kim off of Jeff Manship in the top of the seventh. His first career Major League home run would prove to be the game-winner, but for good measure, Nolan Reimold led off the top of the ninth with a solo blast of his own off of former Orioles reliever Tommy Hunter. Both runs were large in their own ways, especially with the way the Indians had fought back all afternoon.
Cleveland simply ran out of at bats.
When it comes to the Cleveland Indians, it is the team’s starting pitchers that get most of the press and publicity, and rightly so. However, through the first two months of this baseball season, the Tribe’s relief pitching has been every bit as good as the guys taking the mound at the start of each game.
Cleveland’s bullpen, the backbone of the squad only a few years ago, is getting back to shutting down the opposition late in games, as it did during the Bullpen Mafia Days of 2011-2013.
As has been the case the past few years, Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw remain the stabilizing forces in the back end of the ‘pen as Cleveland’s closer and top setup man, respectively. The duo both got off to rough starts to this season, but have each settled in and made it very difficult for the other team’s offense to even think about erasing a late Indians lead.
The Indians got a rare extra inning victory, using a Francisco Lindor solo home run in the 12th inning to give Cleveland an 8-7 win in Cincinnati on Wednesday night.
Lindor, the leadoff man in the inning, worked the count full before lining a laser to the grassy patch in center with his third home run of the season, giving the Indians an 8-7 lead. Reliever Dan Otero made it a little interesting in the bottom half, giving up a two-out single to Billy Hamilton and a walk to Joey Votto before getting known-Indians killer Brandon Phillips to fly to Lonnie Chisenhall in right field to end it.
The Cleveland Indians have a roster move to make on Saturday, and once again, the answer is not a clear one, at least to those of us on the outside of the clubhouse looking in.
When the Indians added several new players to the 25-man and 40-man rosters either during or at the end of spring training (Juan Uribe, Joba Chamberlain, Ross Detwiler, Marlon Byrd), Cleveland lost some of the flexibility that it would have had to send players with options back and forth to Columbus throughout the season. While the additions of the veterans to the lineup card may have made for a better roster to bring to Progressive Field to start the year, it also cost them several young players, including prospects like Tony Wolters, Giovanni Soto, James Ramsey, and Zach Walters.
This has led to several difficult decisions for the organization when looking to clear players from the 15-day disabled list. Now, the Indians are staring down a similar difficult decision as they need to create a 25-man spot for Cody Anderson, who will return from his stint at Triple-A to the Cleveland rotation on Saturday to make the start against the Kansas City Royals.
The problem is that there is once again no clear cut answer as to what roster move to make.
When the Cleveland Indians take the field next Monday against the Boston Red Sox, it looks as though they will be missing each of their starting corner outfielders in their Opening Day lineup from Progressive Field.
Such was the tone out of Goodyear, Arizona this morning as the Indians announced that right fielder Lonnie Chisenhall will open the season on the 15-day disabled list with a left wrist injury, separate from the right forearm issue that has plagued him throughout the spring. In addition, Michael Brantley still appears likely to end up on the DL to start the season, although no formal move had been made by the club at the time of this post.
With Chisenhall and Brantley sidelined, it opened the door for outfielders Marlon Byrd and Collin Cowgill, who were both informed that, barring unforeseen circumstances between now and Opening Day, that each will be with the club to open the season.
While the Cleveland Indians spent a lot of time looking at its bullpen situation for the coming season, the team made several free agent acquisitions to bolster their options. They also quietly made the December purchase of right-handed reliever Dan Otero from the Philadelphia Phillies.
Otero is a four-year Major League veteran who turned 31 last Friday. He had a good half-season in 2013 and a great one in the Oakland bullpen in 2014, but crashed back down to Earth last season, going 2-4 with a 6.75 ERA and 1.50 WHIP in 41 appearances.
The Cleveland Indians have remained busy this week as on Friday afternoon, the club announced it had acquired right-handed reliever Dan Otero from the Philadelphia Phillies for cash considerations.
It was the second move in as many days by the Indians to address the options in the bullpen for the coming season, as they signed free agent reliever Joe Thatcher on Wednesday to a minor league deal with an invite to spring training. His deal is reportedly worth $1 million with additional incentives if he is on the Major League roster.
It makes four potential additions to the club this week alone and two notable subtractions.